Whenever people gather to talk about Mozart, the occasion is invariably replete with superlatives. He was the greatest composer of his day. He excelled in all forms of music: opera, symphony, concerto, piano music, chamber music, choral music …everything. He was the finest pianist and organist in Europe. Had he worked on it, he could have been the best violinist too. Since Mozart’s day there have probably been more composers who have admired and been influenced by him than by any other, save perhaps Bach and Beethoven. He began playing the harpsichord at the age of three. He was composing music while other children were still learning to make mud pies: little piano pieces at age five, symphonies at nine, and complete operas at twelve. He composed with amazing speed and dexterity, producing a catalogue of nearly seven hundred compositions in the space of about thirty years.
One would have thought that a fellow with these gifts would have had no trouble securing a high-paying, important position at some court or church. But such was not the case; he never found one anywhere, and he tried hard. Mozart was terribly unhappy at the court in Salzburg, his home town, where he was poorly paid and greatly underappreciated. In 1781, he made the bold move of relocating to Vienna with no prospect of a position, merely attempting to make a go of it as a “freelancer,” a novel concept in eighteenth-century Europe. Here, in the last ten years of his tragically short life, Mozart composed the great majority of the masterpieces for which he is best known.
This Shakespeare of music seemed to have tapped into the very wellsprings of music. They know exactly how to touch our minds, our hearts, our senses ̶ all those ravishing melodies, the perfection of form, the harmonic surprises, the unusual touches of instrumental color, the consummate character delineation (in the operas), the sense of spontaneity and freshness, the emotional range that takes us from the effortless grace of Eine kleine Nachtmusik to the world of anguish and despair in the G-minor Symphony (No. 40) to the serene peace of the slow movement of the Piano Concerto No. 21 to the festive joy of the finale of the Jupiter Symphony (No. 41).
The music is often of sublime simplicity but so perfectly is it constructed that “displace one note and there would be diminishment; displace one phrase and the structure would fall!,” as Salieri exclaims in the film Amadeus. And the most remarkable thing of all is that one needs to know nothing about music to appreciate Mozart; one simply has to listen to it. Now that’s genius!
Notes: Robert Markow
Here is what the scholar Maynard Solomon has to say about the spelling of Mozart’s middle name (taken from Mozart: A Life, published in 1995, p. 277):
The reader of Mozart’s letters must soon grow accustomed to the numerous permutations to which the composer, who was baptized Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, subjected his own name, apparently just for the fun of it. Thus, we are not surprised to find such variations on the surname as “De Mozartini,” “Mozartus,” or “Mozarty,” though we may be momentarily startled by such anagrammatical variants as “Trazom” or “Romzntz.” The name Wolfgang, though occasionally “Gangflow,” underwent comparatively few transformations. It is the last of Mozart’s forenames, Theophilus, that was subjected to the greatest variety of metamorphoses. Writing to his Augsburg publisher shortly after the birth, on 27 January 1756, of his son, Leopold Mozart noted, “The boy is called Joannes Chrisostomos, Wolfgang, Gottlieb,” thus translating the Greek Theophilus into the German Gottlieb, a form that was preserved – as “J.G. Wolfgang Mozart” – on the earliest of the child’s published works to bear opus numbers. From about 1770 on, Mozart several times referred to himself as “Wolfgango Amadeo Mozart,” but by 1778 he had adopted his favorite – and almost invariable – form of the name, Amadè or Amadé, with occasional ventures into Amadi or the Latinized Amadeus, the latter having originated as early as 1774 in a typically jesting message to his sister. (The almost universal adoption of the form Amadeus is a posthumous process, propelled in large part, I believe, by the wide circulation of Breitkopf & Härtel’s Oeuvres complètes de Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1798-1806). [And, I (Robert Markow) might add, by Milos Forman’s film Amadeus.]
Also, note that the famous signature reproduced in so many books, pamphlets, recordings, program notes, and other documents, is clearly Amadè, with the accent grave.